Google Answers (BETA)
April 18, 2002 2:27 PM   Subscribe

Google Answers (BETA) goes live. Users can ask questions for a fee (pricing ranges from $4 to $50). They're also looking for paid researchers to help them with the service.
posted by kchristidis (36 comments total)
This is just *so* cool.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:41 PM on April 18, 2002

Becase Dr. Know, knows all.
posted by physics at 2:44 PM on April 18, 2002

There was a failed dot-com that did this. They were called

I found a reference in an old FastCompany article from 1997. Back then, of course, humansearch was free. Then they went to a pay model. Then...
posted by vacapinta at 3:01 PM on April 18, 2002

I wanted to start something like this, but via phone. "*THE* 411".
posted by tomplus2 at 3:08 PM on April 18, 2002

amusingly, someone paid $10 to ask what the lyrics for the closing theme of WKRP In Cincinnati were. a plain old google search of wkrp closing theme lyrics returned plenty of hits that answered the question, and it was free. how long before someone starts a "stupid questions from Google Answers" site?
posted by modge at 3:15 PM on April 18, 2002

"how long before someone starts a "stupid questions from Google Answers" site?"

I'll answer that question for $15.00.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:20 PM on April 18, 2002

You can apply to be one of the researchers. You work from home and earn 75% of the price charged to answer the question. Finally my arcane knowledge of dust mites may just pay off.
posted by willnot at 3:22 PM on April 18, 2002

And the thread from last year when it was first launched for a brief period. I like that they want independent researchers. As usual Google rocks!
posted by gi_wrighty at 3:24 PM on April 18, 2002

Sweet Jesus, my prayers have been answered. The hell with software engineering, I'm gonna be a Google Researcher.
posted by jaek at 3:52 PM on April 18, 2002

I predict that within but a few months, the vast majority of Google Researchers will be high school students or people from countries where the average level of pay is much lower than the western world's. They'll have more free time and be willing to work for much less pay than others. Looking at a few questions there, you could expect to earn something like at least $5, perhaps much more than that, and that's worth far more to people in, say, India than those in the US.

While I will be the first to say that being able to write succintly and provide good answers isn't easy, it ain't that hard either. So the moral is - get in while you can.
posted by adrianhon at 3:57 PM on April 18, 2002

Oops. I am a fool - you have to be above 18 to be a Google Researcher. Therefore, I predict that lots of high schoolers will get their parents to sign up for them. Also, I remembered that the penetration of PCs and the Internet in developing countries is much less than in the western world. However, working fulltime on Google Answers could pay back the investment of a computer.

[muses about the possibility of companies providing poor researchers computers so they could do Google Answers, and skimming money off the top]
posted by adrianhon at 4:06 PM on April 18, 2002

".....or people from countries where the average level of pay is much lower than the western world's."

Where the dollar is worth far less than the US dollar? So you earn $4.00 but when converted, the $4.00 is worth 2.00 or less.

This is cool, but I wonder how they will handle disputes.

Actual question - "Should I go to grad school and pursue a doctorate in physics or should I take
my physics degree, get on the road and try and be a rock star?"

posted by lucien at 4:29 PM on April 18, 2002

how much to find out whom killed JFK?
posted by clavdivs at 4:31 PM on April 18, 2002

Lucien: Eh? It doesn't really matter what amount of currency the $4 gets converted into, what matters is how much $4 can buy in different countries. I guess I meant that $4 in China or India buys much more (food, clothing, housing, etc) than in the US or Western Europe.
posted by adrianhon at 4:35 PM on April 18, 2002

Okay folks. Believe it or not I am actually one of the few experts on Online Information Exchanges that you are apt to find. I was once employed by such a site to compile information on the competitors weekly. This is not new. There are many sites that do this, and some of them actually allow you to know a thing or two about the "researcher" before you plunk down your money. Some specialize in a given technical area, others merely categorize their experts. Some of these question/answer sites were even free. In short, the only question I have for Google is which engine and researcher pool they are using.

And now an answer to a question I really saw posted on such a site, "Is it possible to make a living as an expert on this site?" If you are a registered expert on a bunch of sites, and you are reasonably priced, it is possible to make a living but you are better off getting a day job.

In the interests of not releasing proprietary data I will not name my former employer, nor will I recommend the competition. I'll merely point you here and there.
posted by ilsa at 4:47 PM on April 18, 2002

After all, clavdivs, it was you and me.

Cash or charge?
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:49 PM on April 18, 2002

There was a failed dot-com that did this. They were called + I wanted to start something like this, but via phone. "*THE* 411". = there is a failing dotcom that is doing it now.

also, what ilsa linked.
posted by donkeysuck at 4:53 PM on April 18, 2002

(jammin Stones) 'YEAH...UHNNN-HUH...who-who...' take a check?
posted by clavdivs at 4:59 PM on April 18, 2002

well ilsa, maybe you can compile information on why that harem keeper of the oil shieks movie you were in was the weirdest/grossest ever? ... sorry, i don't run into many ilsa's.
posted by lotsofno at 5:59 PM on April 18, 2002

Michael Lewis, author of Next: The Future Just Happened, wrote an article for the New York Times last year called Faking It: The Internet Revolution Has Nothing to Do With the Nasdaq. It tells the story of Marcus Arnold, a 15-year-old who became the top-rated expert in's legal category, above several lawyers:

"That idea had already traveled a long way, and the Internet was helping it to travel faster. After all, what did it say about the law that even a 15-year-old boy who had never read a law book could pass as an expert in it to a huge audience? It said that a lot of people felt that legal knowledge was accessible to the amateur. Who knows? Maybe they were right. Perhaps legal expertise was overrated. Completely."
posted by jkottke at 6:16 PM on April 18, 2002

"Does the current rates of Google Search make sense ?"

Free answer from elpapacito:

C'mon, 50 miserable U$ is the (currently) most expensive
question one can ask. A brief look at the current "test"
questions can help you understand. One dood asked
about the energy efficiency of LCD versus CRT monitors.
The question was worth $10 but he also cleverly asked
for an economic analysis, like how long would it take
to recover the cost a so called "what if " analysis.

This question is worth like hundreds of dollars. Just calculate the average salary of a researcher, add
social security/retirement plan/health care expense
a company must pay to employ one reasearcher
and you quickly discover that an hour is worth
MUCH more then $10.

Now you may argue that all the information may be
already avaiable on the internet, so the cost of
research is actually less then a full-time research in a topic
that is not present on the net. You' right.

But eventually:
a) if google idea becomes popular
b) if the number of researcher increases exponentially (very likely)
c) google will be forced to
1. decrease the cost of a question, because it needs
more question to feed the otherwise unhappy researcher
2. decrease the number of researched, by enforcing
a more strict policy, but that's expensive because you need somebody to control the researcher work, so you need to pay them and you must increase prices.

Also consider that if the real researchers, the ones offering their results for free on the net start thinking that their free offering is being exploited by pseudo-researchers, they'll soon stop posting relevant info on the net, so effectively cutting off people that don't have money from otherwise free information.

And that applies to all the companies currently offering free info on the net. Bye bye Internet, welcome exploitment of cheap labor. Again, Victorian Age because you, smartass, don't have half a clue.
posted by elpapacito at 6:39 PM on April 18, 2002

"Lucien: Eh? It doesn't really matter what amount of currency the $4 gets converted into, what matters is how much $4 can buy in different countries."

I wasn't intending to negate what you said adrianhon. Just adding my own observations on where abouts in the world you might be able to make a living from this, and pointing out that if you really are trying to do this for a living, the exchange rate will mean that it is a more profitable business decision if you live in the US or a country who's exchange rate is higher.

Although the money would indeed be worth more to someone from India, as you and ilsa pointed out...if you live in India, and want to do something like this for a living, you will need electricity and a home, and an internet connection, in which case you will probably already have a job that pays well enough that you can't afford to lose it. The money in India is concentrated within a small amount of the population, the majority as you mentioned are mostly abjectly poor.

I see this as being a part-time thing for some people. I suppose you could make a living from it. But in most countries, for various reasons, it wouldn't pay to. Perhaps, people from the US (or places with an equal or higher exchange rate) who are unemployed or home with children might give consider giving it a try.

And yes, I can see a lot of kids doing this if they can get someone to sign on for them, particularly those with computer and coding skills.

Thanks for the links and observations ilsa, and also (showing up on refresh) interesting comments, elpapacito.
posted by lucien at 6:43 PM on April 18, 2002

elpapacito: the people asking the qeustions set the price. If they set it too low, presumably they won't get answers. And I don't think that question was worth $100, since it shouldn't take an experienced researcher more than about fifteen minutes to find the answer.

Go to, look at power consumption figures for monitors. CRT: 100 Watts, LCD: 35 Watts. Price difference is $550 ($800 for the LCD, $250 for the CRT) Expensive elecrticity costs 10 cents a kilowatt-hour, so you'd need to save 5500 kWh of power to make back the purchase price. Every hour you operate the LCD instead of the CRT, you save 65 Wh; if you never turn the display off you'll break even in about 10 years. This number might come down a little in a corporate environment; most of the heat generated in an office building has to be air-conditioned away. If the air conditioning is 25% efficient, you'll break even in 2 years. But in a corporate environment, it'll probably only be on 40 hours a week instead of 168, neatly cancelling the energy savings, and putting you back up to ten years. So the answer to the question is "You'll probably throw the thing out before you break even on power costs. Doesn't mean they aren't cool and that you shouldn't buy them, but for a 17-inch display power savings isn't a significant factor."

And Lucien, it isn't the exchange rate that's the important part, it's the average local salary in dollars. The exchange rate plays a part in this but isn't the major influence.
posted by jaek at 7:07 PM on April 18, 2002

A friend of mine used to work for Information Markets Corp and I did a bit of freelancing for them. They had an interesting setup, but these days you can't really succeed in the consumer space without Google behind you. And Google obviously decided that the software wasn't sufficiently complex that they couldn't roll their own, rather than partnering with someone else.
posted by kindall at 7:09 PM on April 18, 2002

I've been wanting to do an "" section of this site for a while. It'd be a lot like this, and the person asking the question would have to pony up $2 (or whatever the price would end up being), then they pick the best answer, and paypal the money (less some sort of fee like 50 cents for me hosting the site) to the person that answers the question most fully.
posted by mathowie at 7:40 PM on April 18, 2002

jaek: Dood you'd be amazed by the number of people
that don't know how to this (apparently) simple analysis. Granted , an experienced reasearch wouldn't spend much time doing such an analysis, but how much is it worth for the reasearch, and how much for a potential buyer ?

For the researcher, it's worth exactly the amount the buyer is willing to pay him : and if he/she has got a very little background in accounting or simply pays attentions to his personal income/expenses balance, he/she will quickly
figure out that the current MAX price, set by google to $50 is VERY LIKELY to be too low.

Extimating how much the answer is worth for the buyer is a little different : let's say that he/she is going to use the informatin contained in the answer to take a business decision , that may be worth $100 to $1M to billions if the
information is relevant. Now in theory the answer price should be proportional to the savings or the income that are connected to it. Of course, whoever is ansking the question will not reveal how much the answer is worth to him, but will try to keep the price low, both for risk containment and budget reasons.

At the end the problem is : $50 is way too low for many answer that may be worth hundreds of U$. Google should just NOT set any upper limit, and the system would probably work for a while and encourage researchers to sell their knowledged without middle-man companies. Of course researcher must also remember that they must set prices on the market, exactly like the real companies do regardless of competition and anti-trust laws.
posted by elpapacito at 7:43 PM on April 18, 2002

How long until the Google API allows queries against the answers database?

sigh... one can dream.
posted by jgilliam at 8:10 PM on April 18, 2002

Do it Matt. I know I have a question I'd love to be able to ask all of the lawyers MeFi seems to attract.
posted by willnot at 8:18 PM on April 18, 2002

just ask cecil! cecil will simultaneously answer your question and make fun of you :)
posted by kliuless at 8:47 PM on April 18, 2002

I was a member of Experts Exchange a while back (I still am but I never use it anymore). You got points for answering a question and points accumulate during your membership. If you really wanted to get the answer to a question, you just had to make it worth a lot of points. I think it works for someone that gets an ego lift by answering other peoples questions, or for people that just like to help out, but the money that google is offering will probably motivate quite a few more people.
posted by jaden at 9:34 PM on April 18, 2002

Well, the money Google was offering was motivating me, and I even applied... but elpapacito's points are giving me serious pause. If this will ultimately be destructive to free access to the research materials that are available, I want no part of it.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:21 PM on April 18, 2002

craydrygu: Yeah you got a good point, that some people
don't know jack about using search engines. It's true
they could also use some paid help, nothing wrong with
that too.

That is not unsettling, that's already happening in a million different ways, but nobody as far as I know has tried to set a market price for information searching like Google is trying to do. And IMHO the market price they set is, currently, wrong.

The free leukemia information site will surely not be stopped by any attempt to set prices to information, because the authors of such sites don't care at all about being paid. And their work is welcome because they're helping people that suffer from diseases , and sometimes they're given help by people that don't have time to follow the topic in details, but have resources like web space and bandwidth.

Other people, on the contrary, are sharing only a fraction of the information thay have because
1) they don't have enough time=money to share all they want
2) they don't want to share for free, because they want money for information.

The 1st ones need money and are willing to share for free usually until somebody makes money out of their work : and when they learn that somebody is making money out of their work, they may think "hey, I do the information work, the other guys gets a share greater then mine for ONLY looking into a search engine. Mh, something is wrong" And they MAY (and trust me they will) invest less time info free sharing because, heck, they can do more money with Google or similar ideas.

The 2nd ones only use Google or search engines to lure people to their sites : nothing wrong, they're proposing a sale in a innovative way that cuts middle-man away.

So you see, while in theory the Net is an infinite resource of information, it is really limited by the amoun of people that are willing to publish their work for free ; the remaining net must be paid for. People motivated by ideals can't be affected by money issues like Google one. Other people sooner or later will.
posted by elpapacito at 4:38 AM on April 19, 2002

they'll soon stop posting relevant info on the net, so effectively cutting off people that don't have money from otherwise free information.

College students have been paying tens of thousands of dollars on a yearly basis to gain knowledge that someone else had previously researched and published decades (if not centuries) earlier. You don't see mathematicians and physicists throwing in the towel because a new generation of knowledge-users is acquiring said information, do you?
posted by Danelope at 3:12 PM on April 19, 2002

Danelope: no wonder ! I took my Phd from a University that is known as very good (and indeed it is if compared to many others) just to learn a lot of stuff and then to discover that much of that knowledge was outdated. So like anybody out there, I had to learn more recent stuff.

No wonder they're not throwing towel, the new generation is outdated as soon as it's formed.
posted by elpapacito at 4:04 PM on April 19, 2002

The IPL does question answering for free, if you've got the time to wait for an answer. For that matter, so do I. In many ways, all the fee on Google is for is a hurry-up fee. Many people can do the research, it just takes time and is annoying, and they have a nagging feeling their answers are non-authoritative. My feeling is that no one will be able to make a living doing this, but it beats selling all your posessions on

The value of information is always something librarians banter about, it's interesting seeing this become part of a more public discourse.
posted by jessamyn at 11:56 AM on April 20, 2002

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